PRé Sustainability’s Anne Gaasbeek explains how a uniform combination of circularity and life cycle assessment can make a strong business case, providing both the vision and “the game changer” with the actual facts and figures.

How do tape-related companies make measurement of sustainability both meaningful and manageable? Afera’s currently running digital 63rd Annual Conference addressed “Measurement methods and data” in our second 90-minute session. The first of 2 speakers, Anne Gaasbeek of PRé Sustainability, discussed the importance of substantiating sustainability claims with measurement and how this is used by industry leaders to build a business case. She dived into how you can measure the environmental, social and circular impact of your products and the main trends and developments such as the PEF and harmonised sector approaches.

Why is it important to measure?

Because of the increasing decline of Earth’s resources, the rise of stakeholder expectations and radical transparency, sustainability is becoming mainstream. According to 2 polls taken during the Conference session, 82% of registrants thought becoming greener as companies in the tape sector brings added value and not just additional costs. And 95% have received questions about the environmental impact of their products. Companies increasingly claim that they are becoming greener, but it is industry leaders that use substantiated sustainability claims to distinguish themselves in the market.

Taking the entire lifecycle into account
“That is why we think a robust method like life cycle assessment (LCA) is important, because it allows companies to measure their impact throughout the supply chain, to see what is taken away from the environment and what is emitted into the environment,” said Ms. Gaasbeek. “So it looks at the product from the extraction of the raw materials until its end of life, when it is disposed of.”

PRé, one of the first companies to measure environmental impact and well-known for its LCA software, sees that its customers’ intuitive decisions are not always the right ones: Sometimes disposing of a product responsibly is actually better than recycling it, so gaining life-cycle perspective is important. Very few companies control more than 15% of the total impacts on the environment associated with their products—as much of this lies in the product use phase or the raw materials sourced—so it is not enough to focus strictly on one organisation or one activity, such as manufacturing. Multiple impacts—everything going on upstream and downstream—must be taken into account. Interestingly, over 80% of all product-related environmental impacts can be influenced during the design phase.

Providing you with metrics for CSR communication and KPI setting
An LCA helps you to measure your environmental impact in various areas, that you can then translate into your brand or organisational KPIs. These can be used in a variety of ways, such as in reporting, hotspot identification, benchmarking and performance, product development, and personal, functional and organisational targets. In B2B and B2C marketing, highlighting sustainability—advertising a product or service’s lower environmental impact or a company’s efforts in this direction—can increase a company or brand’s market share and value.

Furthermore, adopting green measures according to European or national regulations sees companies integrating sustainability into their total business approach, allowing them to reap more benefit from their metrics. This often starts with a roadmap in CSR reporting, resulting in improved performance in R&D and the supply chain, that is reported through marketing—and ending up as an integrated approach within all innovations of an organisation. “So sustainability is really a journey,” Ms. Gaasbeek explained. “In our experience, the less ad hoc and more integrated it is, the more value that is generated from it.”

Where do I start?

Some of the leading standards and initiatives for measuring sustainability:

  • Product/organisational

    • ISO 14040/44: A very strict standard for use in communicating on your website and to your consumers about your environmental impact. Whether or not it is used in comparison with the products of competitors, it requires peer review and is very time- and cost-intensive.

    • Environmental product declaration (EPD): An LCA according to product category rules (PCRs), an EPD shows the impact of your product in certain categories. It requires external verification but is less expensive and less time-intensive. This type of certification is used in B2B communications and is increasingly requested by governments and various industrial sectors, the most well-known PCR being LEED, which is geared specifically towards the building sector.

    • Product/organisational environmental footprint (PEF/OEF): According to Ms. Gaasbeek, “this is the game changer”, because the European Commission has standardised product rules so that they are consistent across categories to enable comparability within product groups. Despite much discussion and hesitation, including around the issue of creating trade barriers, the E.C. is discussing making this mandatory, meaning that all products sold within the E.U. would need to be labelled with their environmental impact determined on the basis of fact. Mentioned in the Green Deal, PEFs are in the pilot phase, with a number of PCRs having already been drawn up, including the corresponding data sets with which to perform the assessments and the specified average impacts for average products.

  • Single issue

    • Greenhouse gas protocol (GHGP) (carbon disclosure project): Used as the basis for many standards, such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, science-based targets and the Carbon Disclosure Project, the GHGP provides guidelines on how to measure your carbon emissions, differentiating among scope 1, the energy generated within your organisation; scope 2, the electricity purchased; and scope 3, procurement. It is one of the most internationally recognised standards, used by many companies to communicate their carbon emissions.

  • New metrics

    • Circularity: Many companies and governments have the ambition to become circular or get close to it, “closing the loop” with no waste and minimal social and environmental impact. Strategies range from “high-level” renting out of your products to creating new applications and processes of integration into end-use. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation was instrumental in inspiring circular thinking, setting up the Material Circularity Indicator (MCI) to measure how restorative the material flows of a product. The old, linear way of producing is minimised and recoverable streams maximised for components and materials. How long and intensively a product is used compared to a comparable industry-average product is taken into account.

      “We really believe that circularity and LCA strengthen each other,” emphasised Ms. Gaasbeek. “Circularity is a visionary, mobilising approach, making people enthusiastic about your product or service, and it is something that can inspire LCA, as it is more of a robust, accountancy approach, showing your impacts.” She thinks a combination of the 2 can make a strong business case, providing both the vision and “the game changer” with the actual facts and figures.

    • SDGs: Set by the United Nations in 2015, the well-known 17 Sustainable Development Goals offer new metrics related to specific economic, environmental and social targets for “a better and more sustainable future”. To facilitate monitoring, a variety of tools exist to track and visualise progress towards the goals. Because the SDGs are inspiring to consumers and stakeholders, an increasing number of companies are working towards the targets of the interlinking goals, but as they are designed to be implemented on a national basis, it is challenging to translate policy goals at the company level.

Why collaborate on sustainability? Meeting challenges and methodologies uniformly

At the very least, as a sector we should be aware of the sustainability issues related to the adhesive tape value chain. The advantages of collaborating on sustainability include the strength and consistency of a joint response to pertinent questions and challenging issues, reduction of work and the encouragement of comparability, if sustainable values and targets are approached uniformly. “Measuring sustainability can be complex and costly, especially for SMEs, but sustainability is especially an area where sector collaboration can benefit all,” Ms. Gaasbeek concluded.

Download the 29 October Session recording which includes A. Gaasbeek’s presentation (Members only)
Go to overview of articles on Digital Conference topics
Learn more about Afera membership